Saturday, May 31, 2008


Original title: Le Monde selon Monsanto
Some French and Spanish with English subtitles.

In 1901 John F. Queeny started up a small chemical company producing saccharine. Named after his wife, Olga Monsanto, today the Monsanto Company is a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. Strangely enough on their website they fail to mention having produced and promoted highly toxic chemicals such as Agent Orange (a defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War) and PCBs (banned in the 1970s due to its high toxicity). Monsanto has aggressively purchased conventional seed companies and is now the largest seed company in the world. And Monsanto is by far the leading producer of genetically engineered seed, holding an astounding 70%–100% market share for various crops.

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. This acronym applies to plants, animals or micro-organisms that have been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. This process of genetic engineering was made possible through a series of scientific advances including the discovery of DNA and the creation of the first recombinant bacteria in 1973. The result is a genetically engineered organism (GEO).

BGH stands for bovine growth hormone; BST is the abbreviation for bovine somatotropin. These are two names for the same thing: a protein hormone produced in the pituitary gland of cattle.

This protein can be produced synthetically using recombinant DNA technology. The resulting product is called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). It is administered to the cow by injection and used to increase milk production.

The United States Food and Drug Administration granted marketing approval for rBST in November 1993 to Monsanto under the trade name Posilac. The FDA has stated that milk and meat from cows treated with rBST are safe for human consumption. Following nine years of comprehensive review of the effects of rBST on animal and human safety, and consideration of the findings by two independent external committees Health Canada in 1999 announced that it will not approve the sale of rBST in Canada. Subsequently the European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have also banned it use. Concerns about rBST have escalated in the USA as evidenced by the food store Safeway and coffee chain Starbucks announcing in January 2007 that they would no longer sell or serve milk from cows treated with rBST.

Written and directed by French journalist and filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin her passion for the subject is probably the reason why it runs a little too long. More than a few interviews are shown in their entirety whereas some editing would have made the point more effectively. Also far too much time is devoted to watching her Google for information on her computer.

However the film is notable in that it brings to light the underhanded tactics used by Monsanto to stifle concerns about their products and how it has resorted to misleading advertising, concealing scientific information and offering bribes to influential government officials.

And the implication of any one company controlling the sale of all seeds in the world boggles the mind. Given their callous disregard for the well being of humanity in the past to think Monsanto could one day control much of the world’s food supply, well that’s downright scary!


Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane is one of the best known synthetic pesticides. First synthesised in 1874, the insecticidal properties of DDT were not discovered until 1939. During World War II it was used for the first time with great effect to control mosquitoes that had been spreading malaria and typhus among both military and civilian populations. After the war it was used extensively throughout the world as an agricultural insecticide.

In 1962 Silent Spring by American biologist Rachel Carson was published. The book catalogued the environmental impact of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT and questioned the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding their effects on ecology or human health. The book suggested that DDT and other pesticides might cause cancer and that their agricultural use was a threat to wildlife, particularly birds. The publication of the book resulted in a large public outcry that 10 years later led to DDT being banned for agricultural use, first in the US and subsequently worldwide under the Stockholm Convention. Let’s hope this film has the same impact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great documentary, sohuld be played in every school specially here in south america where GMO's crops are almost everywhere